The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Benny Pough is the head of ALJ Britt Enterprises, a medium-sized real estate company specializing in renting homes to low-income families and families that are just getting started. Benny personally helps couples get their first apartment together, working-class people, and seniors. Before real estate, Benny worked in the music industry. Check out how he used his income from music wisely to build wealth in real estate.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir (WN): Benny, you have a fantastic story, including your time in the music industry, coming close to death, and now writing a book. But before we hop into all of that, I want to learn more about your start. I learned that you have been working since you were 11 years old. What was your first job, and how did that influence your trajectory?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: The story about how I found my way into the workforce is an interesting one. My parents sent us to Orangeburg, South Carolina, literally the Friday of the summer recess every summer. So if school ended on Monday, we left Friday. If it ended on Friday, we were gone by Friday. They sent us because it allowed my parents to earn extra income while we were away and let us see another way of life. After all, there was no camp.
It turns out I was more of a metropolitan kind of kid than a rural farmer kind of kid. Picking peas and feeding the horses and cows and chickens was not for me. So when I turned 11, I saw a couple of friends pick up paper routes, and I decided I’d pick up one, too. And luckily, you can’t just up and leave a paper route for extended periods. You have to find someone to cover for you. So I told my Dad I couldn’t go down south anymore or I’d lose my paper route. And after some rather intense negotiations, he agreed to let me stay in the city. The paper route taught me the value of earning your own money, as well as the benefits and downsides of being an entrepreneur. I learned quickly that some adults aren’t ethical, even with children. It taught me to negotiate and to pay myself first.
Hard work opened my mind and helped me see new opportunities everywhere. We grew up in a five-unit home, and when the landlord decided she wanted to move back to Kansas, she gave my parents the chance to buy the house from her. My father was responsible for the building’s upkeep, and since he was reliable and dependable, she gave him a chance. I could see my parents generate income because of this new opportunity. It gave us some freedoms, and it helped me to see the value in property ownership. I wanted to find a way to make money in my sleep, which is exactly what real estate does for you.
WN: How difficult was it for you to find your way in the music industry? What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: Funny enough, I stumbled into the music business by doing stand up comedy. At the end of a show I did for Motown Records, the local promoter who booked me asked me what my plans were, and at that point, I didn’t have an answer. So she asked me to come to Motown Records and work as her intern, and I decided to go for it.
It opened my eyes to see how great of a shot I was given to change people’s lives in just 12 weeks with music. Music is an integral part of our lives. We can always remember time through music, and being a part of creating it for others was incredible. One challenge I realized early on, though, was that there were no ‘salt & pepper’ Black men in the business, meaning there were no older African American men and women in executive positions. It means I had to set up my retirement so that when it was over, I wouldn’t be in a situation where I didn’t know what my next move would be. So, every bonus I received I used to purchase a piece of property. I had to have an exit strategy to get away from the business before the business got away from me if I needed it.
WN: That’s a great point. I never thought about retirement from the music industry. As you know, there are several ways to build wealth. Why did you decide to invest your bonuses into real estate?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I chose real estate because I wanted to see my money. Real estate appreciation might be a slower grind, but it’s reliable and stable, though it can become risky if you start to flip properties. And that’s about as much risk as I was willing to take when it came to my retirement plan.
WN: Interesting. What was your first real estate investment?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: My first investment property was in Inglewood, New Jersey. I’m a bit sentimental and still own it for nostalgic purposes. I moved from Washington, D.C., to New York for a job at MCA records. This job came with a more prestigious title and more pay. I did what most young people do after getting a little money. I went out and bought a car, not just any car, but a Lexus GS 300. I watched BET and saw a music video with this Lexus that I had to have. As soon as the song was over, I went out and bought it.
And immediately after I bought it, I realized I was “that guy.” I told myself that I couldn’t be the guy with an expensive car living in an apartment. I had to keep my eyes on the prize: the same week I bought that car, I decided to purchase a condo. I got that particular kind of enthusiasm from my mom. She never liked to owe anyone anything. When you owe people, they have something they can hold over you. Now you’re looking at your phone, and you don’t want to answer because you don’t have the money. So buying the car inspired me to buy the home because I saw my parents use their home to create revenue. The signing opened my mind, and that was the beginning of a long relationship with real estate investing for me.
What’s important for people interested in buying property is getting creative, especially if you don’t have the cash to buy outright. You’re going to need shelter for the entirety of your life, and you have to decide if you want to own or pay someone else. Get away from thinking your first place needs to be your best place. Your first place is your investment. Your home will eventually become someone else’s dream, and that’s an opportunity to earn income. Figure out what you’re willing to sacrifice and what resources you can utilize that aren’t predatory.
WN: If you don’t mind sharing, what is your current real estate investment portfolio?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I currently own over 100 units.
WN: Wow, that’s amazing. How did you decide to go into business for yourself?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I’ve always had two plan A’s. So although I’ve worked for corporations, I also had a business to call my own. I never wanted the corporations to dictate my freedom. I never wanted to feel like someone else could take my opportunities away.
WN: Today, most folks know you as a serial entrepreneur, but I hear you are about to add author to your list of titles. What is your upcoming book about, and who do you want to read it?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I was in a near-death car accident a few years ago. I hit a tree going ninety miles per hour, and it changed my life. I ended up with a significant concussion, vertebrae fractures, bulging disks in my back, a lacerated liver, lost half of the blood in my body, and lost two feet of my small intestines.
Despite all of this, I live to fight another day! At that moment, I could feel a book, my book, calling out to me. It’s called “ON IMPACT” because it describes me watching my life flash before me when I hit that tree and the impact that had on my future. I decided I would write this book because that moment literally and figuratively transformed everything for me. It’s an inspirational, motivational business book. It takes you through everything that brought me to that fateful day: from my first job as a paperboy through my history as a music executive to now as the owner of my music label and co-founder of social media app Kandiid.
This book is a map for anyone who doesn’t know how to get where they need to go. I’ve had a lot of opportunities that have emerged at the crossroads. All of my opportunities and blessings have been a direct reflection of the decisions I made at those crossroads. And this book helps you learn how to make those tough decisions. “ON IMPACT” has an actionable item for everyone who needs help moving forward in their life. In turn, these will enable you to make the best choices that lead you towards the outcome you want to see.
WN: What is the most common question you get asked, or you see come across from your followers?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: The most common question I get is, “How did you do it? How did you get through the music business doing it your way.” The answer is rooted in integrity. I had to see the finish line. I had to know how far I would go and what I would do with my time in this business. I had to consider the next generation.
Over my career, I’ve hired hundreds of African Americans who might not have gotten an opportunity to enter the business otherwise. The music business can feel like a closed shop to so many. When I step back, I can be proud of my efforts in nurturing all of the musical and executive talents I see. Helping others is how I have been able to do it my way and maintain my integrity in the process.
WN: Is there any particular childhood memory you remember that helped influence the person you are today?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: My mother has been the bedrock of my financial discipline. I came up in an era where banks had programs called Christmas Clubs. Every week, you would go to a coupon book and tear out the denominations associated with the particular club that caught your eye. It could be maybe five bucks, perhaps a dollar, or even $20; it depended on the club. You would deposit your money at the top of the year in whatever denominations you chose and get the cash at the end of the year to buy Christmas gifts. It disciplined you to save. When I was five, my mother opened up one of those Christmas Club accounts for me. And each week, we would walk a little under a mile to deposit my one hard-earned dollar into my Christmas Club account. Having savings allows you to be ready for any possibilities that may come your way. My mother taught me that.
WN: What’s next for Benny Pough? Is there a primary goal you want to achieve in the next phase of your journey?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I want to become the best person that I can be. I feel a strong pull to share whatever wisdom I have with the next generation so that they, too, can strive for greatness. We can’t look at our success and hold our success without sharing it because then the next generation has to start over. I’m also passionate about keeping our boys out of the prison industrial complex. I currently serve on the board of Prison Fellowship, which helps me in my commitment to our men. So for me, the next chapter is about giving it all I got for myself and others.
WN: The year 2020 was incredibly impactful. From the coronavirus pandemic to the death of George Floyd, huge cultural shifts occurred in the country. How did 2020 impact your business?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I’m thankful to God for the real estate business. It has allowed me to provide housing and opportunities for minorities. My business has been fortunate to have not been negatively affected by the pandemic due to my team’s extensive background in the application process, and more importantly, excellent one on one relationships with tenants.
In regard to the death of George Floyd, I believe the biggest takeaway is there’s still a lot of work to be done in America as a whole, and in local communities. As people, I believe we have to educate ourselves, to self-empower ourselves. It means, we have to be more active in politics, bundling our funds, loving one another, and helping one another. I believe the only way to move forward is for Blacks and minorities to come together as “we” not “I.” I’ve always shown My team members as well as my clients, the pathway to purchase and become an owner. Floyd’s death has inspired me to expand the conversations I was planning to have with the release of my book toward helping Blacks and minorities understand the value of ownership and assets. Therein lies the true path to freedom.
WN: OK, last question. Are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Benny Pough, ALJ Britt Enterprises: I’m an investor and co-founder in a social media app called Kandiid that lets users monetize their content. Instead of likes and comments, users can show their support for people and organizations with their wallets. There is such a capacity for content and value that social media users have added to the social media ecosystem. This great app is an excellent way to reap the benefits of the unique experience that only they can offer the world.
WN: Wow, Benny, that’s amazing. Keep doing what you’re doing. Wealth Noir readers, if you like what you heard, please follow Kandiid on social media or start using the app. Also, check out Benny on Instagram to continue to follow his journey and success. Last, don’t forget to read On Impact as well.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.